Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Lobby in Action

Last March, two prominent members of the foreign policy establishment, University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer and Harvard professor Stephen Walt, published an essay in a British publication pointing to the Big Elephant in the room driving so much of American foreign policy--the Israeli Lobby.

Through its efforts on Capitol Hill and in managing public debate over Israel, The Lobby has stifled any open debate over the influence exerted by a foreign power. It "doesn’t want an open debate, of course, because that might lead Americans to question the level of support they provide. Accordingly, pro-Israel organisations work hard to influence the institutions that do most to shape popular opinion."

The Lobby, says Mearsheimer and Walt, "strives to ensure that public discourse portrays Israel in a positive light, by repeating myths about its founding and by promoting its point of view in policy debates. The goal is to prevent critical comments from getting a fair hearing in the political arena. Controlling the debate is essential to guaranteeing US support, because a candid discussion of US-Israeli relations might lead Americans to favour a different policy."

One recent example of the power exerted by The Lobby occurred in New York City, as reported by the Washington Post. Jewish historian Tony Judt, a critic of Israeli policy, was slated to speak to a non-profit group that rents space from the Polish consulate.

An hour before Judt's arrival, the speech was canceled after the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee made Polish Consul General Krzysztof Kasprzyk an offer he couldn't refuse.

"The phone calls were very elegant but may be interpreted as exercising a delicate pressure," Kasprzyk said. "That's obvious -- we are adults and our IQs are high enough to understand that."

Judt was naturally a bit peeved by this naked attempt at censorship. "This is serious and frightening, and only in America -- not in Israel -- is this a problem," he said. "These are Jewish organizations that believe they should keep people who disagree with them on the Middle East away from anyone who might listen."

Judt was accused of spinning wild conspiracy theories. AJC Executive Director David A. Harris, said, "I never asked for a particular action; I was calling as a friend of Poland. The message of that evening was going to be entirely contrary to the entire spirit of Polish foreign policy."

American foreign policy is significantly constrained and constrained by our undue fondess for another state, something George Washington warned about more than two centuries ago. "The nation which indulges toward another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave...A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained, and by exciting jealousy, ill will, and a disposition to retaliate in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld; and it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country without odium, sometimes even with popularity, gilding with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation."

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